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Berlusconi, Haider, and the Extremism of the Center

BUDAPEST: First Haider, now Berlusconi. The government of my country, Hungary, is also part of that worrying trend. Along with Bavaria’s provincial government (provincial in more senses than one), it has been the strongest foreign supporter of Jörg Haider’s movement. Viktor Orban’s government here, besides other misdeeds, attempts to suppress parliamentary government, penalize local governments controlled by its opponents, and is creating a novel state ideology in cahoots with a group of lumpen right-wing intellectuals.

I cannot consider myself a neutral observer of all this. A video from 1988 shows Orban protecting me with his body from the truncheons of communist riot police. Ten years later, Orban appointed a communist police general as his home secretary. Political conflicts between friends are usually acrimonious and this is no exception. Our opponents - in personal terms - are too close for comfort.

Orban, Haider, and Berlusconi represent a new politics of exclusion that has found a comfortable niche in today’s global capitalism. The old politics of exclusion was Fascism; this new post-fascism is very different: it lacks a Führer, one-party rule, or an SS. Yet it shares a crucial feature with Fascism: it seeks to reverse the great Enlightenment idea that linked citizenship to the human condition.

By equating citizenship with human dignity, the Enlightenment extended it - at least in principle - to all classes, professions, sexes, races, and creeds. The state was conceived as representing everyone; as such, citizenship ceased to be a feudal privilege for the few and became a universal ideal, delivering virtual equality in political conditions.